Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Technical stuff – part 12: idioms

with 3 comments

imagen taken from the french Wikipedia at http...
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Idioms are words or phrases that have a particular meaning, even though the actual words used do not explain the meaning. For example:

It’s raining cats and dogs. (It’s pouring with rain.)

The exam was a piece of cake. (The exam was very easy.)

Let sleeping dogs lie. (Don’t do or say anything further.)

He’s wet behind the ears. (He’s inexperienced.)

The Phrase Finder is a brilliant resource, providing the origins and meanings of numerous phrases, sayings and idioms.

Oxford Dictionaries on idioms

Verbs, adjectives and nouns

That won’t pass mustard…


Written by Wordwatch

22/02/2010 at 9:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. I had a look-see at the idioms in Oxford Dictionaries. I’m North American, and I’ve never said or heard anyone say “hairy eyeball.” I have heard “hairy eye,” but it’s really dated. A “New York minute” is supposedly the microsecond between a Manhattan stoplight’s turning green and the person behind you honking.

    The origin of “in like Flynn” is disputed. To say it definitely comes from the actor is an overstatement, if not false. A few competing theories are (1) simple rhyming of “in” and “Flynn,” evidence of which preexists the actor; (2) “Boss” Flynn, an old-timey politician whose chosen candidates were shoo-ins; and (3) “Flynn’s Detective Weekly.” It is true that Errol Flynn and his scandals popularized and capitalized on the expression.

    Michael Farrell

    23/02/2010 at 6:00 am

    • Hi, Michael — that hairy eyeball one was new to me too. I’ve not heard ‘hairy eye’ either, or the ‘Flynn’ one. And isn’t it strange how — as you point out — something false or disputed becomes accepted as the undisputed truth. Question everything, that’s what I say.


      24/02/2010 at 9:51 am

      • …except my pronouncements. Obviously.


        24/02/2010 at 9:51 am

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